In the Gambia and Senegal, hospitality is a virtue that makes malice a frowned upon vice anywhere in the land that was once the Kingdom of Jollof, of Kaabu, of Niumi and of Saloum.
The hospitality called ‘teranga’ preaches that those that come to visit us and those that need help are treated like royalty and when we host them, we serve ‘at their pleasure.’
Senegal’s President Macky Sall is now hoping that the spirit that guides such kindness is used to mend broken relations between the two nations that share families, culture and tradition but divided by colonialism.
Southern Senegal has found itself in a minor crisis coming to 40 years – low-level conflict for independence by those who feel they have been marginalized by the north. Senegal’s north and south is divided by The Gambia, which is also divided into north and south by its namesake river.
After Gambia’s former President Yahya Jammeh came to power, he has been implicated in funding and arming Casamance separatist rebels and sabotaging peace attempts.
It makes peace, security, and cooperation in tourism development for Gambia’s new government and Senegalese authorities a priority after Jammeh’s defeat in the elections and his unceremonious ouster.
“What we need is peace and harmony. What we need is security and stability. What we need is development and well-being of our people,” says Senegal’s President Macky Sall to a hurray of cheers and applause at the Gambia’s Independence celebration and the inauguration of its new President Adama Barrow.
For Sall, these are the real challenges that SeneGambia faces.
President Barrow’s first trip will be to Senegal. It is a tradition for the new leaders in the two countries to visit each other before visiting any other nation. During his trip, Barrow and Sall will discuss outstanding issues that left relations bruised, including the Bambatenda-Yellitenda bridge, border crisis and high taxes, and the status of the Senegalo-Gambia secretariat.
“We want the relation between the two countries to be a model for African integration,” Barrow says.
During the Gambia’s political crisis, Senegal played a leading role in not just rallying the international community and leading regional military intervention to uphold the outcome of the elections, the Senegalese, in the spirit of ‘teranga’ hosted more than 75,000 Gambians who fled, including Mr. Barrow, when he was President-elect.
Barrow was asked by other West African leaders to stay in Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria or Liberia out of concerns for his safety. He chose Senegal. Being in Senegal for a Gambian will not feel foreign: they eat the same food and speak the same language.
“I chose Senegal because of the fact we are the same people occupying two different countries. I must say I made the right choice and received the greatest hospitality,” says President Barrow.
Both leaders say the two nations are one family giving high hopes of great relations and partnerships to come.
“Today more than ever from Banjul to Bargny, from Brikama to Bignona, from Serrekunda to Tambacounda, we are one family,” Senegal’s President Macky Sall.
“Gambia and Senegal are blood relations. We are one family divided into two states by circumstances of history. But we are inseparable because we share the same value, the same way of life. We are bonded by a common history and a common destiny,” says Sall.
It is not the first time that Senegal has helped restored constitutional rule in The Gambia. In 1981, Senegal’s President Abdou Joof sent in troops to crush a rebellion that nearly ousted the Gambia’s first President Sir Dawda Jawara.
The SeneGambia Confederation was formed to promote, especially economic and military cooperation between the two nations. It collapsed in 1989 but pro-SeneGambian advocates say if the union was in place, the coup that brought the Gambia’s erstwhile dictator Yahya Jammeh to power would have been crushed as well.
But this new SeneGambia marriage does not come without opposition from those who say Macky Sall is trying to annex the Gambia by watching the situation like Putin is trying to do with some parts of Ukraine using a charm’s offensive.
The reality is: the two nations are so intertwined that disturbance in one country could lead to a group of sympathizers in the other. Those that opposed Yahya Jammeh’s rule dissent from Senegal and a handful of coups to oust him were launched from across the border. Those that were fighting the Senegalese government integrated into the Gambian society, had their families in Gambia, bought homes there and would cross the border to Casamance to propel their rebellion.
Senegal’s stability and democracy lie on that of The Gambia, explaining why it has to stamp out Kukoi Samba Sanyang’s 1981 rebellion against Jawara and do anything possible to ensure that Yahya Jammeh is booted out and The Gambia returns to a kind of democracy that Senegal is also leaning towards.
It also means security for The Gambia, where separatist fighters from Casamance were integrated into the army, according to security sources and carried out human rights abuses for Jammeh. Flushing them out will rid the Gambia of potential future coups and insurgencies against democratic administrations.
Unlike Senegal, Gambia had no trade barriers. The opposing trade policies fueled a large black market around the Senegal–Gambia border, which brought cheaper manufactured goods into Senegal. The black market also attracted an export drain into the Gambia.
In the 1980s, when Senegal had a delayed payment system for peanuts, Senegalese farmers began to smuggle their goods to Banjul, where the Gambian government paid in cash; by 1990, estimates show that 20% of the Gambian peanut market was from smuggled Senegalese crops.
Whiles a confederation may not be announced, pragmatic cooperations based on mutual security and economic interests are sure to propel relations between Dakar and Banjul.
Such is already echoed by Mr. Sall who said the best is yet to come if Gambia and Senegal work hand in hand.
“Hand in hand let’s get together. Hand in hand let’s work together. Hand in hand let’s meet the challenges of our future. Hand in Hand let’s achieve our common goals. The best is yet to come,” Sall said.
Sall and Barrow are trying to build a legacy – one similar to those left behind by the great leaders of the Mali, Jollof and Songhai empires and that of the Niumi, Jollof, Kaabu and Saloum kingdoms.
They are forming a common unity to build the legacy – a foundation for a better SeneGambia future cemented by the idea of Gambia and Senegal being one family. It is a legacy they owe to themselves and to the next generation of SeneGambians because “today more than ever from Banjul to Bargny, from Brikama to Bignona, from Serrekunda to Tambacounda, we are one family.”